That one day in September

Sharon Cutajar in her Western Bulldogs themed garage. (Damjan Janevski) 361035_02

Running onto the MCG on the last Saturday in September is something many a young footy fans dream about. Next weekend that dream comes true for the 46 players who will line up in the AFL grand final for Collingwood and Brisbane Lions. Jennifer Pittorino speaks an ex-player and a fan about what the big day means to them.

Three-time premiership winning footballer Brian Lake said he enjoyed every minute of his three grand final experiences.

“The week leading up to the grand final is very structured, there is always something to look forward to,” said Lake who is now the Caroline Springs men’s coach in the Western Region Football League.

“As soon as you win in the prelim you think you are just going to be stressed about Saturday, but the whole spectacle of grand final week kept me busy.”

Lake began his career at the Western Bulldogs in 2002, quickly becoming a ’defensive monster’ due to his ability to out muscle his opponent and hold marks in contested situations.

In 2013, Lake was traded to Hawthorn which culminated in his first AFL premiership, when Hawthorn defeated Fremantle. It was also in this game that Lake won the Norm Smith Medal for best on ground.

Lake went on to win two more premierships at the club in 2014 and 2015, the first time Hawthorn has won three successive premierships in its history.

Lake announced his retirement after playing his last game for Hawthorn in the 2015 grand final.

Sometimes referred to as Hawthorn’s lucky charm, Lake said the trio of grand final wins might have just been a coincidence.

“Some people had mentioned it to me before I said I was the difference,” he said, laughing.

“In 2012 they didn’t make it to the end, and in 2016 they went out in straight sets, so you could say I was just a coincidence.”

In the lead up to his first grand final, Lake said he made a conscious effort to get to the ground early to absorb the build-up and atmosphere.

“I looked at the stadium, the spectators who were already there, the big Hawthorn logo, took it all in and then before you know it was game time.”

Before he ran out to play Lake performed his pre-game ritual which he picked up at his first ever game and ended up employing throughout his whole career.

“I didn’t want to take anything for granted, I didn’t know I was going to play 200 games,” he said.

“That first game was a very proud moment. I made sure I went in the toilet and put my guernsey on in the mirror, so I could watch myself put it on.

“That’s something that kept going for the rest of my life, so I made sure every time I put on my guernsey I put it on in the mirror.”

Hawthorn’s win in 2013 was Lake’s favourite premiership, an achievement he said he will never forget.

“To have that happen in your first year, you are absolutely blessed, it’s not easy to do,” he said.

“It was a huge feeling of relief, yes thank god we won and the game is over.”

Lake said the next two wins were different, he was able to enjoy them more.

“Even though the game wasn’t over at half time, we were in really good control and we were able to enjoy that last quarter a little bit more.

“People love watching a close grand final but it’s not as good when you are in it.”

As a coach, Lake now experiences grand finals from watching from the side lines and can sympathise with the stress and anxiety felt by fans.

Western Bulldogs cheer squad member Sharon Cutajar has been lucky enough to witness her beloved Bulldogs win a flag in 2016.

“Just walking through the MCG on grand final day was like a dream come true,” she said.

“Every single year you would watch the grand final and the parade and wonder when is it going to be our turn, are we ever going to experience this?“

Having experienced her team win the flag, Sharon said watching the season’s ups and downs now is not as stressful.

“Of course we were cheering for them this year, but it’s a completely different experience for us now because we have had our time,” she said.

“We have been a part of it, we have experienced it, so it is not as hurtful now watching the grand final if we are not in it .”

Growing up Sharon and her five siblings supported the Bulldogs, and now as an adult she bleeds red, white and blue.

“It is an indescribable feeling. I see the bulldogs in everything I do, including decorating my house, which has grown and will continue to.”

Born in South Australia, Brian Lake was an Adelaide Crows supporter.

“Like anyone that lived in South Australia, we went for the Crows as soon as they came into the league.

“I remember watching Darren Jarman win that first grand final, it was very memorable.”

Only one team will emerge victorious on Saturday, September 30.